Author's note: I was sitting trying to revise for my philosophy exam the other day, in my pyjamas, bare-faced and with horribly scruffy hair. Then, I heard a strange squeaking noise - and saw with horror that the window cleaner had turned up unannounced. It inspired me to write this story, and so I immediately abandoned all revision. If I fail my exam, I blame this story!
It's a short story, only four chapters, and it's pretty lighthearted. I needed a break from the angst and heavy description of Storm Awakened, so I really enjoyed writing this.I hope you enjoy reading it!
The Window Cleaner
He came to me rather suddenly, I suppose.
It was a Sunday afternoon. I'd come straight home from church and changed back into my pyjamas, and now I sprawled on my bed with a book on my lap and a cup of tea on my nightstand. The curtain was drawn wide to reveal the street outside, and bright afternoon light spilled into the room and made everything appear crisp and clean. I can't say I was at my best: I was wearing no makeup, my pyjamas were crumpled and too small, and my ratty hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail so that my ears stuck out like a gargoyle's. We'd been singing Amazing Grace in the morning service, and now I belted it out with considerable gusto, my face screwed up in what I liked to think was passionate euphoria, the way the singers always do on TV. The only difference between those singers and me was that I couldn't sing. At all.
"Amaaaaaaaaa-zing Graaaaaaaaace! How sweet the sooooooooooound!" I paused to take a gulp of my tea, then tossed back my head and continued, "That saved… a wretch…like meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
I was so caught up in my performance that I didn't hear the clattering, or the rattle of metal underneath ascending footsteps. I only noticed that my moment of musical bliss had been intruded on when there was an almighty thud on the windowpane, and I snapped my head around to see a figure floating on the other side.
I screamed. I screamed even louder than I'd been singing, and when I'd screamed all the air out of my lungs, I wrenched the covers over my pyjama-clad body and wriggled backwards on my mattress, until I fell unceremoniously off the side of the bed with a strangled gurgling noise. After lying there in shock for a few seconds, I gathered up my wits, and peered up over the side of my bed at the figure.
It was a man who looked to be in his early twenties, around my age. He wasn't floating, but standing on a ladder; he wore scruffy blue overalls and a lopsided cap from which a mop of brown hair spilled, and he pressed a yellow cloth to the glass of my window. He was a window clear. A window cleaner.
I could feel the red heat that exuded from my face. The young man stared at me, his schoolboyish face twisted in cruel mirth, a grotesque comic grin tugging at the sides of his mouth. As I sat in a crumpled heap on my floor like a deer in headlights, his grin widened into the perfect semblance of an axe murderer who'd just spotted his next victim, and he dragged his cloth slowly, laboriously, down my windowpane. Sqeeeeeeeeaaak.
I flew from my room, tripping over the duvet as I went, and grabbed my bathrobe from the hook on the bathroom door. I struggled to put it on whilst navigating my way down the stairs, limbs flailing everywhere, and in my whirlwind of fury I almost fell several times. Somehow I made it to the hall, skidded to the front door, and flung it open.
Now, I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but if I ever did concoct one, it would definitely involve window cleaners. I have my suspicions that they install hidden cameras in houses, sit in the back of their surveillance vans waiting until their victims are in the most embarrassing situation possible—half-dressed, sopping wet, when they've just had a hair dye accident or when they're belting out Amazing Grace with all the musicality of a wailing cat dragging its claws down a blackboard—and then they get out their ladders, appear at windows with their cloths and squeegees, and stare with smug amusement into the innocent person's room. Because window cleaners always appear at the worst time, don't they?
But it wasn't the timing of this window cleaner that worried me the most. It was the fact that I'd never even hired a window cleaner.
"What do you think you're doing?" I screeched as I stumbled out onto the drive. The man was at the bottom of his ladder at this point, and he hopped off the bottom rung with an air of satisfaction about him. He wiped his hands on the cloth, then stuffed it into his overall pocket.
"Just cleaning your windows, M'am!" he said with a little salute and an impish smile.
I folded my arms. "I don't recall you asking me if I wanted my windows cleaned."
From the corner of my eye I saw a curtain twitch, and old Mrs. Gove from across the street appeared in the crack to glare at me with hard-eyed suspicion. Her cat, strangely named Kevin, sat on the sill and eyed the scene on my front drive with an equal amount of accusation. I wrapped myself tighter in my scruffy robe.
The window cleaner pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and squinted at it. "Says here that you get your windows cleaned once a month, Mrs. James," he said with an apologetic shrug.
"My name's not Mrs. James," I shot back.
The young man raised his eyebrows. "Mrs. James, Sixty-two Macdonald Road? No?"
"This is number thirty-two!" I jabbed a finger at the gold numbers on my front door. "Can't you read?"
He looked hurt. "No, actually," he replied in a quiet voice.
I stared at him in disbelief, unsure whether to believe him on not. On the one hand, he could have been laughing hysterically at me in his head—on the other, I couldn't accuse him of being a liar in case it was actually true, and he got offended. I hate sensitive subjects.
"Oh," I mumbled. My blush crept farther up my cheeks. "Er, sorry."
"No problem, darling." The man winked, then screwed up the paper into a ball and made a big show of tossing it into my flowerbed. He hoisted up the ladder, put it over his shoulder, and then walked down my drive.
I watched him leave in stunned silence. Was he really just walking off along the street with a ladder over his shoulder? Didn't he have a van? What kind of window cleaner didn't have a van?
He stopped a few metres away from me, and turned back around. "By the way," he called, "your bathrobe's on inside out." And then he disappeared around the corner.
I looked down, teeth gritted, to see that he was right. Mortified, I glanced at Mrs. Gove's twitching curtains, and she ducked behind them in a flash of her big, square glasses, as if it hadn't been obvious that she was watching in the first place. I sighed.
Then it hit me. How come he could read the scrap of paper with the name on, but not my house number? Why did he have no cleaning fluid, or anything except a cloth and a ladder? Did Sixty-two Macdonald Road even exist? No. It didn't. I was sure it didn't.
I tiptoed barefoot over to my flowerbed, and picked up the ball of paper. My head swam with confusion. Why would anyone pretend to be a window cleaner? Frowning, I opened up the paper and read the writing. My frown deepened.
There was nothing about a Mrs. James; nor were there any house numbers. Instead, scrawled in a clumsy, boyish hand, there was a phone number, and underneath it, a name. Joe.